If you haven’t read HELL 1, HELL 2, or HELL 3, please start here.
When we look at the parables of Jesus we find the themes of disunion, reunion, and celebration all over the place. Here are a few examples.
The parables of the Buried Treasure and the Pearl of Great Value are about our individual search to find something of great value.
The parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin are about God seeking to reunite with something of great value.
The parable of the Ten Virgins is about eagerly awaiting and anticipating a reunion.
Those are just a few small parables with the ideas of disunion and reunion at the very heart, but there are a couple of other narratives that blow this idea wide open.
First, there is the account of the Rich Young Ruler, which has been widely misunderstood. Most people think that when he approaches Jesus he is asking, “What must I do to go to Heaven?” But that isn’t what he is asking at all.
By looking at the original Greek, his question is actually closer to saying something like this, “What must I do to presently receive a part/portion (Greek- kleronomeo) of the Age to Come?”
Kleronomeo means to receive a part, a portion. And the young man knows that there is an abundance that he is missing and he wants to know how he can presently receive a part or portion of this abundance.
Do you remember our definition of sin from the previous post?
The word hamartia (a/ “not” and /meros “a part/share of”) indicates that in our relational disunion with God, we are not presently taking part in our share of this abundance.
And that is where we find the Rich Young Ruler.
You could say that he is in “sin.” Despite his diligence in following the Law, he is presently in a position of disunion with the Divine, and he realizes that he does not have a part or share in this abundance that he sees in Jesus.
And then there is the parable of the Prodigal Son. Again, it is a story about relational disunion, but also a story about reunion and celebration.
It is about a son throwing away his part/portion and then coming home to the open arms of the father, who throws a celebration on his behalf.
And while his older brother was angry at the father’s graciousness toward his brother, the father reminded him, “You are always with me and everything I have is yours.” Not only did he say that to the embittered older brother, he demonstrated it to the prodigal who had already received his part/portion and thrown it away.
Listen to this.
Even in the son’s relational disunion (sin), even when the son had thrown away his present part/portion (sin), the father never changed. The son was always with him and everything the father had was the son’s to receive the entire time, even in his disunion. And the father proved it when he came home.
I hope this is as mind-blowing for you as it is for me.
All of this leads to one fundamental question about sin, the cross, and Hell.
If the cross isn’t Jesus taking away these sins that have infected us, and if the cross isn’t Jesus shielding us from God’s wrath and eventual Hell, then what is it exactly?
What we find from the words of Paul, when he isn’t using literary language and when he is actually engaging in some straight talk, is that the cross is a “peace offering” from God to us. Yes, God is bringing a sacrifice to us in order make peace.
Paul writes in Colossians, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace (SHALOM) through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated (relational disunion) from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”
In all the ways we have wrongly believed that God wants to pour out wrath on us because of our “sins,” and in all the ways we continue to obsessively say we are sorry for our “sins” to appease a God we view as temperamental, the cross was actually God making a peace sacrifice to us.
The cross was God metaphorically waving the white flag of surrender to us, shouting as loudly as possible that there has never been hostility toward us, only love and invitation. The truth is that we have only ever been separated (alienated) from God in our minds. Like the prodigal son, who squandered his portion of the father’s abundance, he probably thought his father would be full of hostility and vengeance toward him. But the father’s love never changed the entire time he was gone, nor when he returned. It was only open arms.
Are you hearing me? Open. Arms.
Yes, even when we create this distance from God, even when we walk away from this abundance, even when we wrongly believe that God is hostile toward us because of our “sins,” the Father has always been standing there saying, “You are always with me. Even when you went away and left this abundance, you have always been welcomed back. Nothing has changed with me. You have always been worthy. You have always been loved. The inheritance is all yours. It always has been.”
The Father has always been loving and always generously giving. The Father has always been welcoming us back into a relationship, even when we have mistakenly believed that the Father was full of vengeance and was our enemy.
But the truth is that we have only ever been alienated from God in our minds.
And that is exactly what we find in the words of Paul and Jesus. God is not a hostile, wrath-filled god ready to punish the unrepentant by throwing them into hell-fire for eternity, but a Father who has always been seeking, pursuing, and longing for a relationship with us, even when we are in relational disunion (sin), even when we are not taking part in our share of God’s abundance (sin).
But what we also find is a God who is willing to let us make our own decision in walking away from this relationship and who is willing to let us leave the abundance found in this relationship. And this is the next essential step in understanding God’s judgment, the inherent consequence of relational disunion, and then what Hell actually is.